Tips from the Road

During our road trip we’ve learned some things, About life. About driving. About saving money.

Here’s what we learned:

Apps You Need

  • Hotwire
  • Priceline
  • Waze
  • Yelp
  • Trip Advisor

Eating

  • Eating three full meals on the road can be a lot of calories. You probably won’t want three big meals, especially if you’re sitting in the car for much of the day
  • We ended up opting for
    • 1. Complimentary hotel breakfast (usually oatmeal and fruit)
    • 2. Big lunch at a restaurant
    • 3. Lunch leftovers for dinner. We didn’t choose this pattern to be frugal. We chose this because it made sense
  • Bring a cooler with an ice pack. Each night put the ice pack in your hotel room’s freezer (if it has one). Usually restaurant lunches are big. Save a portion for dinner in your cooler
  • Don’t eat at any nationwide fast food chains. You can get them at home and they will be as disgusting as they normally are
  • Use Yelp for local restaurants. Try to ignore most of the stupid comments people leave, thinking they’re food critics. Just take note of the food people say you have to try
  • Better yet, when you’re walking around a town, go into a shop and ask the shopkeep where they recommend you go eat
  • Bring snacks for the road. We have a Naturebox subscription and brought a box of snacks with us
  • Choose a hotel that has a complimentary breakfast
    • First, this saves you anywhere from $4-$12 per person on the meal
    • Second, you can grab a quick breakfast and then hit the road
    • Third, usually the complimentary breakfast (e.g. at Extended Stay) is a table with instant oatmeal, pastries, fruit, and snack bars. Load up on fruit and snack bars and you now have snacks for the road
    • Note: Extended Stay in Memphis has grits. The cheddar grits taste like mac and cheese. It’s delicious.

Lodging

  • If you are traveling on a road trip, don’t book your hotel until the evening you want a hotel. First, you don’t want to be stuck on a specific itinerary, forced to drive more or stay in a city when you’re done with it. We never planned originally to stay a night in Vegas or spend two nights in Memphis
  • Every city has a cheap room available on any given night (so long as there isn’t a major convention in town). Even so, if you’re willing to drive 20 minutes outside of the downtown area, you can find a place. If you book a hotel at 5pm day-of, you are getting the hotel’s last-ditch rate. If they don’t sell the room it’s lost revenue
  • The cheapest hotels in any metro area are usually by the airport or 20-25 minutes outside of the city center
  • If you want to save a lot of money on lodging, bring a tent and camp (avg. $10-$20/night)
  • Freecampsites.net was recommended by everyone we spoke with at the camp sites we stayed at
  • KOA camp sites are generally good quality, but check out reviews ahead of time to make sure
  • Bring a travel towel if you go camping
  • If you want to save a reasonable amount of money on lodging, use the Hotwire trick (avg. $54 /night)
    • Open your Hotwire app at 4pm or later on the day you want a hotel. Find a hotel in your city (you’ll see results by neighborhood)
    • See what the lowest rates are for a hotel in the star range you want in a specific neighborhood
    • Open your Priceline app and choose the neighborhood and star rating you want. Under-bid the Hotwire rate by about 20%. Sometimes if the Hotwire rate is ridiculously low ($42 or less) there’s not a lot of wiggle room
    • If you don’t get the bid on Priceline, you still have Hotwire’s deals which are usually good
    • Hotwire and Priceline add taxes and surcharges to any published price (usually $10-$15 per night)
    • Approach 2: Look up if there are any “Extended Stay” hotels (a brand of hotel) in the geographic region you are targeting
    • Extended Stay is a 2-star hotel with a full kitchen and complimentary breakfast. It is extremely under-rated and better than any 3-star we stayed at. It is also Hotwire’s preferred cheapest 2-star hotel in any given area. Find out where the Extended Stay is, book a 2-star on Priceline/Hotwire in that same geographic zone, and it will probably be Extended Stay

Driving

  • Download the Waze app. Waze crowdsources road travel data to give you the best routes to-the-minute. It is by far the best maps app available
    • If traffic is slow ahead, Waze will divert your route automatically
    • Other users can report traffic conditions (and cops’ locations) and they do so often
  • Have a buddy to take turns driving. You won’t want to drive all day
  • Map your driving plans out ahead of time so you’re not driving too much on any given day and able to see the sights (our trip ended up with a lot of driving in the last few days). 5 hours is pleasant. 6-7 hours is a bit much. 8-9 hours is rough, especially if you want to see the sights.

Saving on Attractions

  • AAA membership comes with a lot of perks including savings on car rentals and admission to a lot of attractions. It saved us $4 at Graceland, which had the most expensive tickets of any attraction we saw and didn’t seem to have any other discounts available
  • AAA membership can also save you big on car rentals. We booked directly through Hertz using a AAA code and signing up for Hertz’s free “Hertz Gold” membership that came with AAA and saved us around $500 over booking the car via Priceline or directly
  • In Chicago, Hottix is their go-to discounted tickets service. We got Second City improv and Chicago Architecture boat tours 50% off
  • If you’re going to any attraction, you might as well Google “[attraction name] coupon / discount” beforehand to see if you can get any deals (this saved us between a few bucks and half-off admission)
  • Some things are apparently negotiable – In Chicago the hop-on-hop-off bus tour was mildly interesting too us, but was too expensive. The salesperson ended up trying to negotiate us to getting on, and we saved about 60%

Parking

  • Every major city has free or metered street parking if you are willing to look for it*
  • *This excludes Chicago, which is the worst for parking next to New York City

Hospitality

  • If a local or fellow camper invites you for a beer, say yes

Miscellaneous

  • Be flexible
  • You won’t get to see everything, and that’s OK
  • Don’t dwell on the fact that gas may be a few cents cheaper than it was at the last station you filled up at
  • You may not remember a particular museum but you’ll remember sharing stories with fellow travelers

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